Have you ever felt that “knife under the ribcage” experience when you’re really resenting someone for something they did or failed to do?

And then, have you ever felt incredible relief that you couldn’t have predicted when they sincerely apologize?

If so, you might be curious about what lies beneath such relief.

What it comes down to is that a part of your “Shadow” that you feel most ashamed of settles down when you receive a sincere apology.

Our shadow is the part of our personality that has dark and negative aspects that cause us to feel shame. And the darker those aspects, the more shame we feel.

Shame is when we do, fail to do or even think and feel things that are less than who we believe ourselves to be (whereas guilt is what we feel after we’ve done something wrong).

The “knife under the ribcage” feeling is often related not merely to resentment, but to hatred. Sometimes that hatred reaches the level of wishing awful things will happen to a person who has hurt us. When that occurs, we can unconsciously think, “OMG, I’m just like my mother or father who was close to evil. I don’t think I can accept or even live with knowing that.”

Sincere and deep apologies from people who have hurt us give us the opportunity to lessen our hateful feelings and our shame about having them.

Not infrequently, when someone apologizes to us, we will not only forgive them, but will reciprocate with an apology of our own. Our apology is not about having done anything wrong by being resentful towards the other person, but about wanting to relieve our shameful feelings that there is something seriously wrong with us by having such hateful feelings.

Who can you apologize to that will help you as much as it helps them?


  • Mark Goulston, M.D.

    Author, speaker, podcast host, psychiatrist

    Dr. Mark Goulston is the inventor and developer of Surgical Empathy an approach that helps people to break their attachments to counterproductive modes of functioning and frees them to connect with more productive and healthier alternatives. He is the host of the “My Wakeup Call” podcast where he interviews people on the wakeup calls that changed who they are and made them better human beings and at being human and the host of the LinkedIn Live show, "No Strings Attached." He is a Founding Member of the Newsweek Expert Forum. He is one of the world’s foremost experts on deep listening, radical empathy and real influence with his book, “Just Listen,” becoming the top book on listening in the world, translated into twenty languages and a topic he speaks and teaches globally. He is an advisor, coach, mentor and confidante to CEO’s, founders and entrepreneurs helping them to unlock all their internal blocks to achieving success, fulfillment and happiness. Originally a UCLA professor of psychiatry and crisis psychiatrist for over 25 years, and former FBI and police hostage negotiation trainer, Dr. Goulston's expertise has been forged and proven in the crucible of real-life, high stakes situations including being a boots on the ground suicide prevention specialist and serving as an advisor in the OJ Simpson criminal trial. Including, “Just Listen,” he is the author or co-author of nine books with multiple best sellers. He writes or contributes to Harvard Business Review, Business Insider, Biz Journals, Fast Company, Huffington Post, Psychology Today and has appeared as an psychological expert in the media including: CNN, Headline News, msNBC, Fox News, Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Forbes, Fortune, Psychology Today and was the subject of a PBS special. He lives with his wife in Los Angeles, California.